Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional Adventure City in North America, the animated film “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” features talking dog characters and a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class and working-class.
Culture Clash: A boy and his team of rescue dogs must stop a ruthless scientist and a villainous former mayor, who plant to take over the world with meteoric crystals that give superpowers to people in possession of the crystals.
Culture Audience: “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Paw Patrol” TV series and people who want escapist, children’s-oriented entertainment that has a superhero plot.
In a world overloaded with superhero films, “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” is an adequate option for anyone who will watch entertainment geared to kids under the age of 10. Like many sequels, it tries to do more than the original, but it’s not cluttered. However, by introducing more characters and adding a new villain, some of the regular characters are sidelined in this movie. “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” is a sequel to 2021’s “PAW Patrol: The Movie.” Both films are directed by Carl Brunker and are based on Nickelodeon’s “PAW Patrol” series.
For the hero characters in “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” (which was co-written by Brunker and Bob Barlen), an almost entirely new cast of voice actors replaced the voice actors who were in “PAW Patrol: The Movie.” In “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie,” Ryder (voiced by Finn-Lee Epp) is a 10-year-old boy who’s in charge of a team of rescue dogs that have the voices of human kids who are around the same age and can do many things that humans can do, such as drive vehicles. Ryder and the dogs all live in Adventure City, which is somewhere in North America. Members of the PAW Patrol help the community in various ways, by acting as unofficial police officers and firefighters.
The dog who’s closest to Ryder is a male German Shepherd named Chase (voiced by Christian Convery), who has a reputation for being the bravest dog in the pack, with a keen sense of sight and smell. Chase is allergic to cats though, which is a hindrance since this movie’s villain has several cats. All of the other PAW Patrol dogs look up to Chase in some way as their “alpha dog.”
In addition to Chase, there’s Skye (voiced by Mckenna Grace), a bold 7-year-old female tan cockapoo, who has aircraft skills and a custom-made pink-and-grey helicopter. Marshall (voiced by Christian Corrao) is a goofy 6-year-old male Dalmatian with firefighter and paramedic skills and a custom fire engine truck. Rocky (voiced by Callum Shoniker) is a 6-year-old grey-and-white male Schnauzer/Scottish Terrier mixed-breed dog, who is skilled at recycling and handyman duties, and he has a green recycling truck.
Zuma (voiced by Nylan Parthipan) is a 5-year-old male brown Labrador Retriever whose specialty is water rescues. He has an orange hovercraft that can be used on water or on land. Rubble (voiced by Luxton Handspiker) is a 5-year-old male white-and-brown bulldog who is the team’s construction expert, and his custom vehicle is a yellow bulldozer. Smart and sassy Liberty (voiced by Marsai Martin) is a brown dachshund who was added as a new character in “PAW Patrol: The Movie.” All of the voice actors for these characters are different in “PAW Patrol: The Movie” and “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie,” except for the characters of Liberty and Rocky.
“PAW Patrol: The Movie” begins with J&H Scrap junkyard owner spouses Janet (played by Kristen Bell) and Hank (played by James Marsden) seeing a mysterious person stealing a crane and a 10-ton electromagnet. Janet and Hank report this theft to the police. It turns out that the thief is a ruthless scientist named Victoria Vance (voiced by Taraji P. Henson), who wants the electromagnet to attract a meteor to Adventure City.
Why this meteor? It has special crystals that can give superpowers to anyone who has these crystals. Why does she want these superpowers? To take over the world, of course. Victoria’s devious plan works, and the meteor crashes into Adventure City, but this crash destroys Pup Tower, the headquarters of the PAW Patrol.
This disaster couldn’t have come at a worse time for the PAW Patrol. The team has added three new members as Junior Patrollers, who are Pomeranian puppies named Mini (voiced by North West), Nano (voiced by Alan Kim) and Tot (voiced by Brice Gonzalez), who are all eager to become full-fledged members of the PAW Patrol. North West and her brother Saint West (who voices the Meteor Man character in the movie) are the children of Kim Kardashian, who has small role in the movie as a pampered poodle named Delores.
Victoria is a knowledgeable scientist, but she makes the stupid mistake of going online to brag that she caused the meteor crash. She’s quickly arrested and put in jail, where her cell mates are the disgraced Mayor Humdinger (voiced by Ron Pardo) and his six companion cats. Victoria tells Mayor Humdinger (who was the chief villain in “PAW Patrol: The Movie”) about the crystals. He convinces her to form an alliance and make a deal with him: If he can break them both out of jail, she will give him one of the crystals. Humdinger still has his buffoonish arrogance and deceptive ways.
Through a series of circumstances, the PAW Patrol find the crystals, which become attachments to their dog tags. While wearing these crystals, the dogs develop superpowers based on their strongest characteristics, except for Liberty, who is dismayed that she did not receive any superpowers from wearing a crystal. Liberty is also annoyed that she’s been tasked with looking after Mini, Nano and Tot while her team mates on the PAW Patrol take off to battle the villains. Babysitting the Junior Patrollers is not what Liberty had in mind when she joined the PAW Patrol.
“PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” borrows a lot from the story in Marvel Studios’ “Avengers: Infinity War,” because much the movie is about a villain wanting to get a collection of precious stones, in order to rule the world. The voice cast members in “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” get the job done well enough, but Skye and Liberty are the only two PAW Patrol members who have significant storylines and screen time in “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie.” Liberty is uncomfortable about not having found her own superpower, while Skye is insecure about her past as the runt of her litter.
Victoria and Mayor Humdinger are frequently amusing to watch, but the story really only needed one chief villain, not two. As a dastardly duo, the chemistry between Victoria and Humdinger is hit and miss. Parts of “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” get jumbled when the movie tries to cram in distractions that serve no purpose except to increase the length of the film. The plot is easy to follow though, even if there’s nothing particularly innovative about it.
“PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” has some voice cameos that only seem to be in the movie so the filmmakers could say that they got some famous people to be voice actors in the film. Serena Williams makes a cameo (that’s about 10 seconds long), as the voice a yoga instructor named Yoga Yvette. Chris Rock utters a few lines as one of Mayor Humdinger’s cats in a similarly “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo. Lil Rel Howery, who is the voice of TV reporter Sam Stringer, has one of the longer cameos, since his dialogue is about five minutes in the film.
“PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” looks exactly like what it is: A feature-length, bigger-budget version of a TV episode of “PAW Patrol.” Do not expect a masterpiece in animation, but don’t expect the fiilm to be low-quality either. “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” seems happy to occupy a space that is somewhere in the middle and made for people who just want to see a lightweight and enjoyable animated film.
Paramount Pictures will release “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie” in U.S. cinemas on September 29, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles and other parts of Earth in 2065 and in 2070, the sci-fi action film “The Creator” features a predominantly white and Asian cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: In a post-apocalyptic world, artificial intelligence (A.I..) beings fight for their rights to be treated as equal to human beings, who are hunting and killing rebel A.I. beings on behalf of the U.S. government.
Culture Audience: “The Creator” will appeal primarily to those who like sci-fi films that have a lot of visual spectacle but not much of a cohesive plot.
“The Creator” takes a big swing and misses in its commentary on whether or not human beings and artificial intelligence beings can peacefully co-exist. The last half-hour of this sci-fi misfire is a mess of plot holes, while the film irresponsibly ignores other real-world prejudices. The movie’s visual effects and cinematography are fairly impressive, but “The Creator” is truly a case of style over substance.
Directed by Gareth Edwards (who co-wrote “The Creator” with Chris Weitz), “The Creator” takes place in 2065 and mostly in 2070, in a world still recovering from an apocalypse. It’s explained in the beginning of the movie, through a montage of news reports, that a war began after a nuclear bomb was detonated in Los Angeles in 2055. A mysterious artificial intelligence (A.I.) genius named Nirmata, who is worshipped by A.I. beings as their god, is widely believed to be responsible for this disaster. Nirmata is the leader of a rebellious group of A.I. beings that want humans to stop treating them like slaves and start giving A.I. beings the same, equal rights as humans.
As a result of this bombing, the U.S. government has been at war with the rebellious A.I. beings that the U.S. military has been tasked with shutting down wherever they can find them. By contrast, a region called New Asia doesn’t believe in this policy and is sheltering A.I. beings. The U.S. government has said that they’re at war with the A.I. beings, not New Asia, but there’s an undertone of xenophobia in the U.S. military activities that take place in New Asia. Many of the movie’s combat scenes are deliberately made to remind people of the Vietnam War. (“The Creator” was actually filmed in Thailand and London.)
Early in the movie, a raid takes place in New Asia in 2065, where an undercover U.S. military sergeant named Joshua Taylor (played by John David Washington) and his pregnant wife Maya (played by Gemma Chan) experience a home invasion by U.S. military soldiers who have gotten a tip that Nirmata is hiding in this home. Joshua, who is originally from Los Angeles, lost his parents and brother in the nuclear bombing that hit Los Angeles in 2055. Joshua insists to the home invaders that Nirmata is not in this home.
The rest of the story takes place in 2070, and it involves Joshua becoming a fugitive and going on the run with a Nirmata-affiliated A.I. being that Joshua names Alphie (played by Madeleine Yuna Voyles), who has the appearance of a human girl who’s about 9 or 10 years old. Alphie has the ability to move large objects and change thoughts just by using her mind. She is considered to be Nirmata’s ultimate “weapon.” Alphie is also the catalyst when Joshua has to make a decision about which side of the war will ultimately get his support.
The chief “villains” in the story are U.S. military officials General Andrews (played by Ralph Ineson) and Colonel Jean Howell (played by Allison Janney), who are hell-bent on destroying as many A.I. beings as possible. Colonel Howell is sent to do most of the dirty work. One of her motives is that she lost a son in this war, and she blames A.I. beings for his death. Joshua has two colleagues who are also in the mix: Drew (played by Sturgill Simpson) is Joshua’s best friend and a former war buddy. Shipley (played by Robbie Tann) is a U.S. military sharpshooter. The characters of Drew and Shipley are very generic and almost forgettable.
“The Creator” is a movie that wants viewers to believe that racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism and other harmful bigotries have somehow magically disappeared from Earth, and the only bigotry that matters is the prejudice that humans have against A.I. beings. These other prejudices aren’t just sidelined. They are completely erased in the movie, as if they never existed at all. Keep in mind that this story takes place only 42 to 47 years after “The Creator” was released in 2023. It’s highly problematic to suggest that these real-world problems no longer exist, in a movie whose very premise is about species bigotry. Other nations seem to have “disappeared” too, since there’s no mention of any other countries being allies on either side of this U.S. war against the A.I. beings of New Asia.
Furthermore, for a movie where some of it takes place in Los Angeles, there are hardly any Latinos in sight, when (as of 2023) Latinos are the majority race in Los Angeles and is a demographic that continues to grow in that area. Are we supposed to believe that this apocalypse mostly wiped out Latinos? The world’s racial demographics in “The Creator” are presented as mostly white and Asian, with a few people from other races scattered here and there. The great actor Ken Watanabe has a small, mostly thankless role as Harun, who is an ally of Nirmata.
The identity issues wouldn’t be worth mentioning if this entire movie hadn’t been built on its clumsily handled plot that the world is in a vicious war against beings because of different identities. Bigotry is based on ideas of superiority and power, but those ideas are just reduced to “shoot ’em up” scenes and chase scenes where humans and A.I. beings fight each other. The biggest bright spot in the movie is the performance of Voyles. She absolutely shines in her role as Alphie, who displays convincing human emotions, despite being an A.I. creation. All the other characters in “The Creator” are stereotypes, with mediocre performances to match.
“The Creator” is also one of those irritating movies that does enough “fake-out deaths,” it will make some viewers think that it’s trying to be like any of the most recent movies in the “Fast and the Furious” franchise. Even in the realm of science fiction, “The Creator” has too many plot holes that undermine what could have been a much better movie. The logic is sorely deficient in many of the action scenes, which often have sloppy editing, in order to cover up these glaring plot holes. Some people might praise “The Creator” for being brilliant and ahead of its time, but the movie’s story is actually quite backward-thinking, simple-minded, and somewhat insulting to the intelligence of viewers expecting a quality sci-fi story that takes place on Earth in the 21st century.
20th Century Studios will release “The Creator” in U.S. cinemas on September 29, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in South Australia, the dramatic film “The Royal Hotel” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Aboriginal people and one Asian) portraying the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two young female tourists from Canada take a live-in bartending job at a shabby and sordid pub in a remote, male-dominated mining town, and they experience various levels of danger and harassment.
Culture Audience: “The Royal Hotel” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Julia Garner and movies about subtle and not-so-subtle sexual tensions and power-based dynamics between men and women.
“The Royal Hotel” is a realistic observation of how two female friends can have very different reactions to being in the same male-dominated environment. Despite a few story flaws, the movie accurately shows how people try to dismiss harassment as “joking.” “The Royal Hotel” had its world premiere at the 2023 Telluride Film Festival and its North American premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.
Written and directed by Kitty Green, “The Royal Hotel” touches on many of the same themes that are in Green’s 2020 film “The Assistant.” Both movies are about how women navigate in an enviroment where men have almost all of the power, and most of the men in that environment abuse that power through misogynistic harassment or violence. Julia Garner stars in both movies.
“The Assistant” is based partially on real-life experiences of administrative assistants of Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced entertainment mogul who became a convicted and imprisoned rapist. “The Royal Hotel” is also inspired by real events: The movie is based on the 2017 Australian documentary “Hotel Coolgardie,” which is about two young Scandanavian women who became trapped in a remote mining town in Australia.
That’s what happens to Canadian tourists Hanna (played by Garner) and Liv (played by Jessica Henwick), who are best friends leading a nomadic existence. Hanna (the responsible and cautious friend) and Liv (the free-spirited and spontaneous friend) aren’t really on vacation, but they don’t have any immediate plans to go back to Canada. They both like to party, but Hanna doesn’t drink alcohol. It’s later revealed that Hanna’s mother abused alcohol when Hanna was a child.
In the beginning of the movie, Hanna and Liv are partying at a nightclub somewhere in Australia when Liv discovers (after her credit card is declined) that they have run out money. Hanna and Liv are in a work/travel program that helps people find temporary jobs in places where they are visiting. It’s never made clear in the movie how long Hanna and Liv have been living this way.
At an office appointment, an unnamed woman (played by Bree Bai) who works for this program informs Liv and Hanna that the only immediate job opening available to them is a bartending gig at a pub in a converted hotel in a remote mining town in Australia. This office worker tells Liv and Hanna that the job, which includes free lodging for the pub employees, involves a lot of “male attention,” because most of the people who live in this area are men. The office employee describes the job as something that attracts a lot of young women. She tries to make it sound like it would be adventurous to work there.
From the beginning, Hanna feels uneasy about this job offer and is reluctant to take the job because she thinks it might be dangerous. Liv doesn’t have any of those concerns and asks out of curiosity about this remote location: “Will there be kangaroos?” Because they are desperate for money, Hanna and Liv accept this job offer. It’s a decision that they will later regret.
Because Hanna and Liv can’t afford to have their own car in their current circumstances, the pub’s manager Carol (played by Ursula Yovich) gives a car ride to Hanna and Liv to this unnamed, desolate town in South Australia. (“The Royal Hotel” was filmed on location in South Australia.) At first, Carol has a gruff and unfriendly attitude toward the two pals. The pub is located in a shabby place that used to be known as the Royal Hotel. Hanna and Liv plan to live and work there for only a few weeks to make enough money to go back to their carefree lifestyle of partying while traveling.
Hanna and Liv will be replacing two other young women: Jules (played by Alex Malone) and Cassie (played by Kate Cheel), who are close friends and originally from Great Britain. Jules and Cassie are “party girls” too, but Jules is more talkative and more extroverted than Cassie. Hanna and Liv first meet Jules and Cassie in the living room of the messy suite area where Hanna and Liv will be staying. Cassie and Jules are startled out of a drunken stupor when Hanna and Liv arrive. Jules laughs when Hanna and Liv asks if this place has WiFi, because there is no WiFi service in this area. Cell phone service is also spotty and rare.
During the course of the movie, Hanna and Liv are targets of hostile sexism from men who are used to getting away with it. However, Hanna and Liv react differently. Hanna thinks it’s offensive and often isn’t afraid to say so. Liv makes excuses and says it’s just part of the “culture” where they are. “The Royal Hotel” has many examples of how women can often be unwitting or deliberate allies and enablers to sexists who want to treat women as inferior to men, thereby helping perpetuate this vicious cycle.
The warning signs about this awful job are obvious from the beginning, when Hanna and Liv first meet Billy (played by Hugo Weaving), the disheveled owner of this struggling business. The shower that Hanna and Liv have to use isn’t working properly, so Billy (who is in his 60s) angrily storms into the room to fix it, and he strikes up a conversation with his two new employees. During this conversation, Hanna mentions that she can speak some Spanish and Portuguese. In response, Billy calls Hanna a “smart cunt,” in a tone of voice that makes it clear that he thinks Hanna is being uppity. Hanna is so shocked by this insult from her new boss, she doesn’t say anything to him about it.
Hanna and Liv know nothing about bartending, so Billy has to train them. Hanna figures out very quickly that she and Liv (and the other young female employees before them) were only hired to be objectified by horny male customers. Liv knows it too, but she doesn’t seem to care, because she thinks they can have a good time anyway. Liv often scolds Hanna for being too “uptight” over the increasingly alarming and hostile actions that the two women get from some of the customers. Liv convinces Hanna to stay just a few weeks so they can make enough money to go to Australia’s Bondi Beach.
The pub’s customers consist mostly of men in their 20s, 30s and 40s. The vast majority of them work in a nearby mine. One of the rare women in the pub is a regular customer named Glenda (played by Barbara Lowing), who is about the same age as Billy. Glenda, who is often drunk, craves attention from the men in the pub, where the atmosphere (not surprisingly) is often rowdy and vulgar. Glenda has an outdated and harmful attitude that men should be allowed to get away with sexual harassment just because they’re men.
On the last night before Cassie and Jess leave the area, they both get very drunk and dance on the pub’s countertop, much to the delight of the male customers. At one point, Cassie and Jess (who are both wearing skirts) lift up their clothes to flash their naked private parts on their upper and lower bodies. The two women don’t want to be groped in their private parts and have to fight off the men who try to commit this sexual assault, which is excused as “drunken antics.” Liv smirks when she quips to a horrified Hanna: “That will be us in a few weeks.”
One of the young male customers named Matty (played by Toby Wallace) plays a prank on Liv by telling her that he wants a drink called Dickens Cider. Liv says she’s never heard of that drink. It takes Liv (who’s not as street smart as she thinks she is) a few minutes to figure out that Dickens Cider is not a real drink but a pun for “dick inside her.” Liv laughs off the joke, while Hanna doesn’t think it’s so funny.
It soon becomes apparent that Matty is attracted to Hanna. In an effort to impress Hanna (who rebuffs his advances), Matty eventually says he’s sorry for his crude prank. Matty can see that Hanna is repulsed by a lot of what she sees in the pub, so he quickly switches gears and tries to give the impression that he’s the “nice guy” in the group. Meanwhile, another young customer named Teeth (played by James Frecheville), who is often teased by the men for being socially awkward, develops a crush on Liv.
And in a sleazy place like this pub, there’s always at least one creep who gives the impression that he’s just one drink away from committing rape. In this pub, this cretin is Dolly (played by Daniel Henshall), a hate-filled loner who likes to bully and harass people for no reason. Dolly will get no sympathy from “The Royal Hotel” viewers when they see what he does.
It would be very easy for any outside observer to say, “Why don’t Hanna and Liv just leave?” It’s not that simple. Hanna and Liv have no money and no means of transportation (the nearest public transportation is too far away to walk), so unless they can find someone in this land of strangers to drive them out of this hellish place for free, they’re out of luck. Carol won’t help because she needs Hanna and Liv to stay as bartenders for the pub.
All Hanna and Liv have to do is get paid and then use the money to leave, right? Wrong. After a while, Hanna and Liv find out that Billy is an alcoholic who hasn’t been paying anyone to whom he owes money. A local vendor named Tommy (played by Baykali Ganambarr), who delivers food and drinks to the pub, hasn’t been paid by Billy for the past three months. Billy owes Tommy $4,300. And eventually, Hanna and Liv see that Billy has no intention of paying them either.
Billy isn’t doing anything to help his failing business. There’s a scene where the phone rings in the nearly empty pub. Billy picks up the phone, and without even finding out who’s calling and why, he rudely shouts, “We’re busy!” And then he abruptly hangs up the phone. Through conversations, it’s revealed that Billy inherited and ruined this once-thriving family business, which was started by his paternal grandfather.
And where is Carol during all of this mess? Carol, who is Billy’s lover, keeps mostly to herself in the small trailer where they live next to the pub. It’s never really explained why Billy and Carol live in a trailer when there are plenty of rooms in this former hotel. However, considering how run-down the place is and how some of the equipment keeps malfunctioning (with unreliable Billy being the only repair person), it can be assumed that most of the rooms in this place are uninhabitable. Carol has a no-nonsense attitude and isn’t as terrible as she first appears to be.
Unfortunately, the trailer for “The Royal Hotel” shows too much of what happens in the movie, even if these spoiler details are just brief glimpses in a quick-cutting montage. Viewers will probably enjoy “The Royal Hotel” more if they haven’t seen the movie’s trailer first. Regardless of how much people know about this movie before seeing it, the acting throughout is above-average and makes this movie worth watching.
Garner and Henwick give riveting performances as two friends who find their loyalties to each other tested by their contrasting attitudes toward misogynistic sexism. The movie also has very authentic depictions of how sexual harassers and horrible bosses often test the boundaries of what they can get away with and go further past those boundaries if they aren’t stopped. Hanna (who is obviously the story’s hero) finds out that she has more courage and inner strength and than she originally thought she did.
“The Royal Hotel” is not without its flaws. In the last third of the movie, someone suddenly makes an appearance that doesn’t really ring true. It looks a little too contrived. The movie also doesn’t do a very good job of explaining Liv’s background and why she puts up with so much blatant and unacceptable harassment. There’s a slight hint that Liv is running away from something traumatic when she’s asked by a customer how she ended up in this remote place, and Liv replies that it’s because it’s far away from where she used to live.
Hanna’s background is also vague. The only information that viewers will learn about her past is that she grew up with a mother who was probably an alcoholic (even though Hanna denies that her mother’s drinking problem was that serious), and Hanna studied business and marketing while she was in college. It’s also never really made clear how long Hanna and Liv have been friends. However, Hanna and Liv certainly find out what kind of friendship they have in these tough circumstances.
Overall, “The Royal Hotel” is a capably written and skillfully directed movie that shows how victims can be trapped in horrendous situations where the people who could help them are the same people who don’t want the trapped victims to leave. The movie also serves as a warning that abuse is abuse and should not be dismissed as “gray areas” or “blurred lines.” “The Royal Hotel” can keep viewers guessing about what will happen next, but by the end of the movie, there should be no uncertainty about who and what caused the worst problems.
Neon will release “The Royal Hotel” in select U.S. cinemas on October 6, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Greece and briefly in Chicago, the comedy film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Arabic people) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A large Greek American family goes to Greece to spread the ashes of a recently deceased patriarch and to deliver his beloved journal to his old friends, but complications and distractions happen during this chaotic family trip.
Culture Audience: “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star/filmmaker Nia Vardalos and the “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” franchise, but people who saw the first movie in the franchise will be appalled or disappointed by how low the quality has sunk for this third film in the series.
The third time is not the charm for the “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” movie series. Writer/director/star Nia Vardalos should have given “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” the title “My Big Fat Pathetic Excuse for a Movie Sequel.” This dull, unfunny film drags down to embarrassing levels of stale jokes that would be rejected by amateur comedians. This is not going to be the movie that will erase the “one-hit wonder” image that Vardalos has in filmmaking.
When the romantic comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was released in 2002, this low-budget independent film became a surprise blockbuster hit in telling the story of a 30-year-old Greek American named Toula Portokalos (played by Vardalos) who works at her family’s Greek restaurant in Chicago, and is being pressured by her large and opinionated family to get married to a nice man of Greek heritage. However, Toula falls in love with a nice non-Greek man named Ian Miller (played by John Corbett), who is a school teacher. Vardalos, who was born and raised in Canada, got an Oscar nomination for writing the screenplay for “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” which is based on a one-woman play that she did in Los Angeles in 1997. The play was inspired by her own life as a woman of Greek heritage who married a man who does not have Greek heritage.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” (released in 2016), a very unworthy sequel, told the story of spouses Toula and Ian dealing with their 17-year-old daughter/only child Paris (played by Elena Kampouris), who wants to go to a university far away from her parents. Shenanigans happen when the family finds out that Toula’s Greek immigrant parents Konstantinos/Kostas “Gus” Portokalos (played by Michael Constantine) and Maria Portokalos (played by Lainie Kazan) aren’t legally married because of a technicality. You can easily guess who’s having the big wedding in that movie. In “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3,” it’s not revealed right away who will have the movie’s big wedding, but when it does happen, it’s so hastily thrown into the movie, it looks very fake and rushed. It’s really just sloppy screenwriting
Vardalos wrote the screenplay for all three of these movies (where Toula is the narrator), but “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” is the first time she’s directed a movie in the “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” franchise. Her feature-film directorial debut was 2009’s “I Hate Valentine’s Day” (also starring Vardalos and Corbett), which was a cringeworthy flop in every sense of the word. Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson and Gary Goetzman are the producers of the first three “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” movies, which have had diminishing returns in creativity and profits. In other words, sometimes all you need are some rich friends who will pay for your awful movie and can afford to lose money if the movie rightfully bombs.
You’d think that with a seven-year gap between “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” sequels, that would be enough time for Vardalos to come up with some clever ideas. But no. “My Big Fat Weekend 3” is just a mostly boring hodgepodge of badly edited skits in desperate need of a coherent plot. The movie jumps from one subplot to the next, while stuffing these subplots with cheesy gags and hokey scenarios and never fully developing these subplots.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” also has a weird fixation on making tasteless jokes at the expense of elderly women because of their ages and physical conditions. It’s “insult comedy” that has no wit or even a glimmer of charm, because the jokes are very idiotic, as if they came from the mind of a less-than-smart 12-year-old brat. For example, in “My Big Fat Weekend 3,” Toula’s widowed mother Maria now has early-onset dementia. (Constantine, who played Maria’s husband/Toula’s father, died in 2021.) The movie makes Maria (who’s in the movie for less than 15 minutes) the butt of jokes because Maria has this very traumatic medical disease.
The first two “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” movies took place in Chicago. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” takes place mostly in Greece and briefly in Chicago. The movie was filmed on location in Greece, so there are plenty of aesthetically pleasing camera shots of the gorgeous Greek landscape. But this movie isn’t a video travelogue, although many of the most basic travelogues are more exciting than this dreadful dud of a movie.
Toula and her very large family (without Maria, who’s too ill to travel) go to Greece to have a memorial for Toula’s recently deceased father, whose wish was for his treasured personal journal to be delivered to his group of male best friends, whom he knew when he was living in Greece. Toula’s father was cremated, so the urn with his ashes is brought on this trip, with the intention to scatter the ashes in the Greek village where he was raised. Recent college dropout Paris, who left New York University because of too much partying, is on this trip. And so are Toula’s dimwitted brother Nick Portokalos (played by Louis Mandylor) and Maria’s two annoying sisters: talkative and controlling Voula (played by Andrea Martin) and weak-minded and creepy Frieda (played by Maria Vacratsis), who are all unflattering stereotypes of Greek Americans.
This movie sets up sight gags of this large group (at least 20) of Toula’s family members boarding the airplane like a noisy group of squawking chickens. Except for the above-mentioned relatives who are in Toula’s immediate circle, the additional family members are really just glorified extras who don’t have significant lines of dialogue or storylines. And in a very contrived plot development, Paris’ most recent former suitor (a guy she barely knows because she rejected him after only one or two dates) is on the same flight. He is a handsome Greek American named Aristotle (played by Elias Kacavas), who tells a horrified Paris that he was hired to help Voula (the movie never really explains what type of “help” Aristotle agreed to do), only to find out that it’s an obvious setup for Aristotle and Paris to get back together.
Upon arriving at the airport in Greece, things get more ridiculous when a cheerful young stranger (about mid-to-late 20s) whose name is Victory (played by Melina Kotselou) greets this boisterous clan and offers to give them a tour of the village where the family will be having the memorial. Victory claims to be the mayor of this village, which Victory later announces has only six residents. The circumstances under which Victory knew about this family’s airplane flight are vaguely explained, much like many things are inadequately explained in this poorly written movie.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” keeps dropping big hints that Victory is a non-binary person, but the movie won’t really come right out and say the word “non-binary.” It’s as if Vardalos wanted to appeal to political liberals for having an “inclusive” movie, but she also didn’t want to offend political conservatives by having an openly non-binary character in the movie. It’s playing both sides, which comes off as kind of manipulative.
The movie isn’t that inclusive, when it comes to race. Except for a few characters of Arabic heritage, everyone who has a speaking role in this movie is white. “My Big Fat Wedding 3” is polluted with overused family comedy clichés of meddling aunts who are obsessed with everyone else’s love lives; pouting young people who want freedom from their parents’ expectations; buffoonish uncles/brothers, who act like clueless clowns; and a central couple who wants to hold the family together and make everyone happy.
Another big family comedy cliché is a grouchy old woman whose main purpose is to make the characters uncomfortable. In the case of “My Big Fat Wedding 3,” this cranky senior citizen is Alexandra (played by Anthi Andreopoulou), who suddenly shows up and keeps interfering in the family’s business. Alexandra says that she is a former girlfriend of Toula’s father, and they dated before he met Maria. Here’s an example of one of the movie’s terrible jokes: Alexandra announces to the group: “I can do facials with Greek yogurt. Enemas too.”
Alexandra has a friendly personal assistant named Qamar (played by Stephanie Nur), who is a Syrian refugee with no family members in Greece. Qamar is dating a good-looking local Greek man named Christos (played by Giannis Vasilottos), but they’re keeping their romance a secret from Christos’ family, because they’re afraid his family won’t accept Qamar for not being Greek. You know where this is all going, of course. Later in the movie, a local Greek man named Peter (played by Alexis Georgoulis), who’s a few years older than Toula, is introduced to Toula and her family. Toula immediately thinks that Peter is attracted to her.
Voula’s two children Nikki (played by Gia Carides) and Angelo (played by Joey Fatone) make tangential return appearances that are awkwardly shoved into “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3.” Nikki and Angelo are summoned from the U.S. to go to Greece and are tasked with finding the long-lost friends of Toula’s late father. Nikki, who was in the first two “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” movies, was a vital character as Toula’s best friend in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” In “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3,” she’s a sidelined and cartoonish character. And so is Angelo, who came out as gay in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” but his personal life is not part of the storyline in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3.”
As for Toula and Ian, their relationship is portrayed on a very superficial level in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3,” with no real insight into how they’ve evolved as a couple since “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.” Toula and Ian kiss and cuddle each other and show other signs that they are still in love, but it’s like reading a greeting card for someone’s wedding anniversary: The loving words are there, but they’re just showy expressions. On screen in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3,” the marriage of Ian and Toula doesn’t have much substance and often looks too much like an acting performance. Toula and Ian, whose passion is supposed to be the driving force of this franchise, have become a bland and monotonous couple.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” is a pile-on of empty-headed dialogue and scenarios. In one scene, Toula has had a little too much alcohol to drink. She says, “I forgot there’s alcohol in alcohol.” Watching “A Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” is like watching human brain cells die from all the stupidity in this time-wasting movie.
In another scene, a goat has accidentally wandered into the house where Toula and her family are staying. This unexpected goat intrusion happens early in the morning, when everyone is still asleep. Voula lets out a big scream when she sees the goat in the living room. She later quips about seeing the goat: “I thought my husband had come back from the dead.”
In yet another scene that’s supposed to be funny but just falls flat, Paris (whose wardrobe suddenly goes from frumpy to flirty in this movie) goes for a swim by herself on a beach, only to discover that she’s at a nudist beach. (There are no naked private parts in this movie.) She decides to go with the flow and take off all her clothes before going for swim in the water. And then, Paris is shocked to find out that Voula and Frieda are at the beach too and right there in the water with her. The movie then quickly cuts to another scene.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” is an example of a bad movie that was made because the producers didn’t step in and demand a rewrite of this horrible screenplay. Vardalos’ aimless direction shows that she has learned nothing from the disaster that was “I Hate Valentine’s Day.” What’s most disappointing of all is that Vardalos created some very vibrant and interesting characters in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” but she has turned these characters into shallow props for a lot of jokes and slapstick set-ups that are lazy, worn-out and very misguided.
Focus Features released “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” in U.S. cinemas on September 8, 2023.
The following content is generally available worldwide, except where otherwise noted. All TV shows listed are for networks and streaming services based in the United States. All movies listed are those released in U.S. cinemas. This schedule is for content and events premiering this week and does not include content that has already been made available.
September 18 – September 24, 2023
All times listed are Eastern Time/Pacific Time, unless otherwise noted.
Netflix’s Season 2 of “Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal” premieres on Wednesday, September 20 at 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT.
CrimeCon is an immersive, weekend-long event dedicated to all things true crime and mystery. From the latest cases to the latest scientific techniques. From binge-worthy TV shows and docs to the top podcasters and creators in the world. And from deep-dives into niche topics to big ballroom events with personalities you watch every week—CrimeCon delivers it all. Made by fans, for fans, CrimeCon’s mission is to bring together the true crime community for a weekend filled with education, understanding, advocacy and lots of fun.
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the dramatic film “Waiting for the Light to Change” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with one white person and one Latino) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: As five people in their 20s gather at a beachfront home for a week-long vacation, they grapple with various issues, such as a love triangle, relationship loyalty, emotional baggage and uncertainty over their futures.
Culture Audience: “Waiting for the Light to Change” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching understated but well-acted dramas about young people going through life transitions.
“Waiting for the Light to Change” is a quietly poignant drama that authentically shows what it means to have a quarter-life crisis. You need an open mind to watch this low-key movie. If you’re expecting melodrama or cute antics, you’ll be disappointed. The movie’s story, which takes place over the course of one week, is filmed in a way where viewers have to pay attention to offhand remarks in conversations to get the personal backgrounds of the five characters who are the only people in the movie. There is no voiceover narration from a protagonist that would make it easier to introduce the characters and to explain who they are to each other.
Directed by Linh Tran, “Waiting for the Light to Change” (Tran’s feature-film directorial debut) had its world premiere at the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival, where it won the grand jury prize for Best Narrative Feature. Tran co-wrote the “Waiting for the Light to Change” screenplay with Jewells Santos and Delia Van Praag. The movie takes place at one location (a fairly remote beachfront property in an unnamed U.S. city) and was actually filmed in Michigan.
People have become so accustomed to seeing Hollywood studios’ portrayals of people in their early-to-mid 20s as being always ready to have snappy banter or doing something extreme to get attention, they think that’s the “norm” of how people in ther 20s should be on screen. “Waiting for the Light to Change” doesn’t follow that over-used formula. The characters in this movie have gathered at this beach house for a relaxing vacation—and that is mostly what is portrayed, so don’t expect any surprise bombshells.
Even though this vacation is supposed to be laid-back, there are undercurrents of discontent that come out in realistic ways. The characters often leave many things left unsaid, because they don’t want to ruin their relationships with each other. However, their actions and body language speak volumes about their true feeling. Much of the credit goes to how the cast members skillfully intepret the dialogue in the movie’s emotionally intelligent screenplay.
“Waiting for the Light to Change” begins by showing the arrival of four of the five people who are on this vacation. They have all traveled to this beach property in the same car. Viewers don’t find out everything about these characters right away. But it’s established early on that best friends Amy (played by Jin Park) and Kim (played by Joyce Ha) are comfortable enough with each other that Kim can squat down on the front lawn of the house and urinate in front of Amy, who is standing in front of Kim to give her some privacy.
Why is Kim urinating on the front lawn instead of in a toilet? Through conversations, it’s revealed that Kim’s boyfriend Jay (played by Sam Straley) has a grandmother who owns the house, but he didn’t tell this grandmother in advance that he would be staying at the house with some friends. And so, when Jay arrives at the house with Kim, Amy and Kim’s Chinese immigrant cousin Lin (played by Qun Chi), they find themselves temporarily locked out of the house. Jay doesn’t know where the spare key is to the front door, so he has to call his grandmother to find out where the key is.
Eventually, the four visitors get inside the house and are soon joined by Alex (played by Erik Barrientos), who is a friend of Jay’s, who traveled to the house separately. Alex, who is 22, is slightly younger than the rest of the group. Amy is 25, and the movie implies that she and Kim are about the same age and have known each other for years. Kim and Amy now live far apart from each other, for reasons that are not stated in the movie. It’s mentioned that Kim bought Amy’s airplane ticket for this vacation.
Kim’s personality is strong-willed and controlling, but not in a mean-spirited way. It’s in way that seems to say, “I care so much about you, I’m going to tell you what I think is best.” Amy is more introverted and less likely to express her feelings. Jay is a “regular guy” who later reveals his insecurities. Lin is sweet-natured but not very intuitive at figuring out the dynamics going on in this group.
Lin, who also in her mid-20s, is sharing a room with Amy. Kim and Jay are staying in another room. Alex has a room to himself. “Waiting for the Light to Change” is a conversation-driven movie, where scenes are intentionally cut off abruptly, as if the viewers are watching a documentary, and the filmmakers suddenly don’t want viewers to see what happened next. It’s an interesting way of making viewers speculate what could have happened next and then pick up the clues in the next scene.
Through these conversations, viewers find out that Amy and Jay have had a close platonic friendship for years, but she’s been secretly attracted to him in a romantic way. Meanwhile, Alex is casually acquainted with Amy and has a crush on her, but the feeling isn’t mutual. Amy thinks Alex is too young for her. Lin has a boyfriend in China, but Lin worries about how the long distance will affect their relationship.
It’s also revealed that Kim is the only one in the group whose career is thriving. It’s not stated what she does for a living, but Amy expresses some envy to Kim that Kim seems to “have it all,” when it comes to a career and a love life. It isn’t until more than halfway through the movie that it’s revealed that Jay is unemployed and was recently fired from his job as a restaurant cook.
Amy’s occupation isn’t stated, but since Kim paid for Amy’s airplane ticket, it can be presumed that Amy is not doing well financially. Lin mentions early on in the movie that she’s a student who has a job, but she doesn’t really like her job. Lin also says in a conversation with Alex that she had an unhappy childhood because her parents got divorced when she was 2 years old, and she grew up poor.
Alex, the most “rebellious” one in the group, is a stoner with a fondness for marijuana. He doesn’t talk about what he does to make money. He’s the only character in the movie who sometimes looks awkwardly placed. Alex just shows up and only seems to be in the story as the person who brought the drugs (they all get high later on with some other substances) and as someone who could possibly create another love triangle. Alex’s friendship with Jay is never really explained.
“Waiting for the Light to Change” also touches on self-esteem issues when it comes to weight and physical appearances. It isn’t mentioned until much later in the movie that Amy used to be overweight but has lost enough weight to be considered slender. Observant viewers will notice that this weight loss is the catalyst for a lot of Amy’s thoughts and actions. And because women usually get judged more harshly than men for weight/physical appearance issues, the female perspective in this movie shown with a lot of genuine clarity.
Formerly overweight peope who go through the physical transformation of becoming slender often describe how they have difficulty coping with how people treat them differenty (usually with more respect or more sexual attraction) as a slender person, compared to when they were of a bigger size. A formerly overweight person can feel like the same person inside, so it’s often a rude awakening when they see how much physical appearance can make a big difference in how they are treated by people around them. Depending on the formerly overweight person’s personality and self-esteem, this reality check can make their lives better or worse.
Amy is clearly going through this psychological adjustment. For years, Jay has always treated her like a friend. But now that she is considered more “physically attractive” by society’s standards, she wonders if Jay might look at her differently and could possibly be attracted to her too. At the same time, Amy doesn’t want to hurt Kim by telling Kim that she has strong romantic feelings for Jay.
In one of the first scenes in the movie, there’s a very telling conversation between Amy and Kim that makes much more sense later on when it’s revealed that Amy used to be overweight. In the scene where Kim is urinating on the lawn, Kim asks Amy, “How much do you weigh now?” Amy replies that she weighs 130 pounds. “I weigh more than you now,” Kim says.
It’s a very authentic scene between two female friends that rings true, because this conversation is Kim’s way of trying to make Amy feel good about Amy’s current weight. In the production notes for “Waiting for the Light to Change,” director/co-writer Tran says her director’s statement that the movie is partially based on a real-life experience she had of going on a vacation with her best friend and some other people, after Tran went through a significant weight loss. Tran says that her best friend also paid for the airplane ticket for this trip.
Amy and Kim have a close friendship, but there’s also an unspoken rivalry between them. In a private conversation on the beach, Kim asks Amy how her sex life is. Amy says, “I have sex, but not as much as other people.” Kim suggests that Amy have a sexual fling with Alex. Amy rejects the idea. Things happen later that show how some people can manipulate sexual attraction for certain agendas.
Even though Amy thinks Kim “has it all,” Kim confesses to Amy that she’s not sure if she really loves Jay. It seems to be a relationship where Kim and Jay enjoy each other’s company, for the most part, but there are signs that Kim and Jay aren’t very compatible and are staying together because they don’t want to be alone. After Amy finds out that Kim really isn’t in love with Jay, Amy has to decide what she has to do about her own romantic feelings for Jay.
“Waiting for the Light to Change” isn’t completely focused on these love entanglements. The movie also adeptly portrays the quarter-life crisis feelings of people in their 20s who feel like underachievers in a society where people can get rich in their 20s by being entrepreneurs or social media stars. What’s interesting about this movie is that the characters don’t use any technology (aside from making a few phone calls by cell phone), which implies that they want this vacation to be a “digital detox” retreat from the outside world.
One of the best scenes in “Waiting for the Light to Change” that portrays the angst of a quarter-life crisis is when Amy and Jay are making pancakes together in the house’s kitchen. Jay mentions his unemployment but he doesn’t really want to talk about it or his unsuccessful job search. “I just feel really empty and embarrassed,” Jay tells Amy. “It’s like quicksand.”
All of the cast members do well in their roles, but Park, Ha and Straley (who is one of the producers of the movie) stand out the most, due in large part because they have the best-written characters in the film. “Waiting for the Light to Change” might move too slowly for viewers who are expecting there to be zippy banter between this group of young people. This is a movie filled with scenes of quiet conversations, but the emotional implications in these scenes are loud and clear for viewers with enough life experience.
Prima Materia Pictures released “Waiting for the Light to Change” in New York City on September 15, 2023. The movie will be released in Chicago on September 22, 2023. Freestyle Digital Media will be release “Waiting for the Light to Change” on digital and VOD on October 20, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Ukraine and in Poland in early 2022, the documentary film “In the Rearview” features a nearly all-white group of people (with one black person) who were affected by the Russian invasion war of Ukraine.
Culture Clash: “In the Rearview” director Maciek Hamela, who is from Poland, documented the van rides that he gave to refugees escaping from Ukraine to Poland.
Culture Audience: “In the Rearview” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching a documentary about what it was like to evacuate from Ukraine during the Russian invasion that began in 2022.
The compelling documentary “In the Rearview” offers a glimpse into what some Ukrainian refugees were experiencing during the Russian invasion in 2022, while riding in a rescue van crossing the border into Poland. The film is intimate and sometimes very raw. It’s filmed in cinéma vérité style, in every sense of the word: There are no interviews, no re-enactments and no follow-ups to see what happened to the people in the documentary. “In the Rearview” had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival and its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“In the Rearview” is the feature-film directorial debut of Maciek Hamela, a Polish citizen who volunteered to drive a van of Ukrainian refugees from Ukraine to Poland when the Russian invasion began in February 2022. About a month after Hamela began doing these rescue missions, he started filming these trips at the end of March 2022. Most of the documentary’s footage shows the passengers inside the van, with the camera facing the passengers. Hamela has said in interviews that all filming was done by human camera operators—not a fixed or hidden camera on a dashboard (also known as a dash cam)—so that the participants knew that they were being filmed at the time.
There are several documentaries that chronicle the horrors of war. In the case of the Russian-Ukrainian war, documentaries about this war tend to focus on the people who are stuck or left behind in the war zone, or the documentaries have discussions of the politics that led to this war. “In the Rearview” has a unique perspective, because it’s about the transition period when war refugees know that they are leaving for a safer place, but there’s still a lot of anxiety and fear of what’s ahead.
It goes without saying that the refugees have had to leave almost all of their possessions behind in their abandoned homes. What causes much more agony is that many of the refugees have been involuntarily separated from loved ones or know that their loved ones have died. The people who have been separated from their loved ones often don’t know where their loved ones are. And if they do know where their loved ones are, communication sometimes isn’t possible for long stretches of time, because the war-torn areas often have no electricity or Internet service. Adding to the pain is the fact that some of the refugees need medical help that they won’t be able to get until they’re safely out of Ukraine.
All of these issues weigh heavily on the refugee passengers who are featured in the documentary. They are not identified by name while they are shown in the van. However, the names of the participants are listed in the end credits of “In the Rearview.” Hamela can be heard and briefly seen during these trips, as he has conversations with the people who are temporarily in his care during this terrible time in the refugees’ lives. Unlike some documentarians, Hamela doesn’t want to make himself the center of the attention during filming. He comes across as compassionate, humble and someone who deeply cares about the safety of these refugees.
Many of the passengers who are in the documentary are groups of families. A few of the refugees are traveling alone. Many are deep in thought and don’t say anything. They look like they’re too much in shock to speak. Some of the refugees are talkative, as if they want to unload some of the burdens they’re feeling.
People of many different generations are featured. The children under the age of 8 are often too young to fully understand what’s happening, but they know something is very wrong. In one of the documentary’s segments, a family with three generations of people, including two married grandparents, are in the van. The grandmother says, “We only left because of the kids.” She later gets teary-eyed when she talks about the family’s 9-year-old cow named Beauty that the family had to leave behind.
Another family has brought the family’s 5-month-old cat (a male with black and white fur), and is shown keeping the cat safe by having it tucked into a basket during the evacuation. The wife in the family says she no longer dreams when she sleeps. She says it’s because at night, she is constantly hearing explosions.
During another ride, a woman in her late 20s or early 30s is a pregnant surrogate, who wonders aloud what will happen after she gives birth. The woman who was supposed to raise this unborn child is apparently missing and is possibly dead. The pregnant surrogate, who is accompanied by her own mother during this van ride, seems to want to take her mind off of this dire situation by talking about her goal to one day open a bakery/sweets shop where people can test the pastries before eating.
The hellish experiences of the war are discussed in a few of the conversations. A girl who’s about 13 or 14 years old talks about witnessing a rape that happened as a direct result of the war. During another van ride, a woman in her 30s talks about how her father’s fingers had to be amputated because of injuries he got while trying to rescue her mother.
In a family of five people, identified in the end credits as having the surname Lichko, the family’s stressed-out patriarch Kirill Lichko describes how his house was bombed while his family members were inside. “I don’t know how they survived,” he says of his family members, with a mixture of relief and apprehension. Kirill has a 5-year-old daughter named Sofia Lichko, who is intelligent and polite. The members of this family were able to escape with their identification, so Sofia demonstrates how she was taught to show her ID form if she’s asked to show her ID.
The van is also a makeshift ambulance that doesn’t have medical supplies but is able to accommodate people who are not able to sit up. One of the more memorable refugees in the documentary is an injured college student, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is traveling alone and has injuries that require medical attention, so she is seen lying down in pain as she tells her story.
The Congolese immigrant says she came to Ukraine to study the oil industry and has been living in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv for the past 10 years. She has a sister who lives in Ternopil, Ukraine, because her sister came to Ukraine to study economics. This Congolese immigrant says the oil industry doesn’t interest her.
She also mentions that during her time in Ukraine, she opened a shop that sold African imports, but the business failed. Despite all of the uncertainty over her future, she is certain that she will come back to live in Ukraine, which she says is like a second homeland for her. She says she will return to Ukraine “when things calm down.”
These rescue trips across the border are also fraught with tension when the van is stopped by soldiers at the border. The documentary doesn’t show anyone being turned away, but you get the feeling that Hamela would’ve just found another way to get the refugees across the border. The evacuations filmed in this documentary happened early enough in the war for the refugees to be let across the border much easier than if they tried to evacuate when things got worse during the war.
“In the Rearview” is very much a no-frills “snapshot” documentary, where viewers are just given glimspses into the lives of the people who are featured. There are a few questions that remain unanswered, such as: “How did Hamela deal with a shortage of gas fuel in the Ukraine?” “Where did he drop off people who had nowhere to go?” “How far was he willing to go to drive people to help them find their missing loved ones?” Although “In the Rearview” does not answer these questions, viewers will have a clear sense of the vulnerable emotions of these refugees who were filmed during a very tumultuous and dangerous time in their lives.
Culture Representation: The documentary film “Donyale Luna: Supermodel” features a group of white and black people (with one Latino) discussing the life and career of model Donyale Luna, who broke barriers for black female models in the fashion industry.
Culture Clash: After being bullied through her teenage years in her hometown of Detroit, because of her unusual physical appearance, Luna reinvented herself and quickly became an international supermodel, but she experienced career-damaging racism and had ongoing personal problems, such drug abuse, mental health issues, and a career that burned out almost as quickly as it lit up.
Culture Audience: “Donyale Luna: Supermodel” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in biographies of unusual and underrated celebrities; the fashion industry in the mid-1960s to mid-1970s; and people who broke racial barriers in their industries.
When people think of the first black woman to be on the cover of Vogue, they might think that supermodel Beverly Johnson holds that distinction. Johnson was actually the first black woman to be on the cover of American Vogue, in 1974. The first black woman to be on the cover of any Vogue was Donyale Luna, who achieved this milestone by gracing the cover of British Vogue, in 1966. Luna (whose first name was pronounced “dawn-yell”) was also the first black woman to be on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, in 1965, but as an illustration, not in a photograph.
If you’ve never heard of Luna, you’re not alone. The documentary “Donyale Luna: Supermodel” shines a deserving spotlight on this often-overlooked model, who died of a heroin overdose in 1979, at the age of 33. Johnson, whose modeling career benefited from Luna’s racial breakthroughs, is interviewed in the documentary. Johnson admits that early on in Johnson’s career, she had never heard of Luna.
Directed by Nailah Jefferson, “Donyale Luna: Supermodel” (which had its world premiere at the 2023 American Black Film Festival) follows a traditional celebrity documentary format of having a mixture of archival footage and interviews that are exclusive to the documentary. However, Luna is such an unusual subject, and there’s such a great variety of people who are interviewed, the movie doesn’t ever feel too formulaic. It’s a riveting and well-rounded biography about a trailblazing model who never became a household name but whose impact and influence resonate for generations after her untimely passing. This documentary also explores generational trauma and pop culture.
“Donyale Luna” is artfully told in five chapters named after the cities that each defined a certain era in Luna’s life. Chapter One begins in Detroit, followed by Chapter Two in New York City, Chapter Three in London, Chapter Four in Paris, and Chapter Five in Rome. Detroit is where Peggy Ann Freeman (Luna’s real name) was born in August 31, 1945, as the middle of three sisters. She lived in Detroit through her teenage years. Her favorite movie was “West Side Sory.” Much of her childhood was scarred by bullying that she got from her some of peers because she was very tall (reportedly growing to 6’2″), slender and had big eyes. She was often called “ugly” by people who thought she didn’t fit their standard of beauty.
Adding to her unhappiness, her strict parents had a volatile on-again/off-again marriage that ended in a tragedy that won’t be described in this review, so as not reveal too much information that’s in the documentary. There’s a lot about Luna in the documentary that viewers will be finding out for the first time. There are some people interviewed in the documentary who break down in tears when talking about her, so viewers should not be surprised if they get emotional too when they watch this documentary.
Several of Luna’s family members are interviewed, including Luna’s younger sister, Lillian Washington, who says that her parents had a “history of domestic violence.” Her father Nathaniel Freeman (a longtime Ford Motor Company employee) physically abused their mother Peggy Freeman (a longtime YWCA employee), according Luna’s Detroit childhood friend Omar K. Boone, who’s interviewed in the documentary. Boone also says that when he knew Luna in her teen years, she was “unsophisticated” but a “quick learner.”
Washington and many others in “Donyale Luna: Supermodel” describe Luna as having an other-worldly beauty that would make people stop what they were doing and stare at her if she was in their presence. People who knew her best also describe her inner beauty of radiating kindness and love. However, Luna also had lifelong insecurities about the way she looked and about being accepted by other people. Several people in the documentary say that Luna habitually made up stories about herself and sought to escape in fantasy worlds that she fabricated.
The combination of these insecurities and the bullying she got as a child led her to invent the Donyale Luna persona for herself when she was a teenager. She started speaking in a European accent and pretended to be multiracial, even though she and her parents were African American. The documentary’s archival footage of her from the late 1960s shows that Luna wore piercing blue contact lenses that didn’t look like human eyes. It’s mentioned that Luna’s father disapproved of this invented persona because he felt that she was denying her African American heritage.
Washington says of Luna’s childhood and teenage years: “All the black guys thought she was crazy. They called her ‘skinny’ and ‘bony.’ They called her Olive Oyl. They hurt her to her core. I think that encouraged her to create her own persona.” Josephine Armstrong, Luna’s older sister, confirms about Luna: “She would pretend and tell stories.”
Luna’s life would change when she was discovered in Detroit by photographer David McCabe, who urged her to go to New York City (where he was based) to become a fashion model. McCabe, who is one of the people interviewed in the documentary, believes that Luna lied about her racial identity (at various times, she claimed that she was part-white, part-Latino, part Asian and/or part-Native American) because she probably felt that if people knew she was fully African American, she would experience more racism. It’s also mentioned in the documentary that Luna often talked about wishing that she had blonde hair and blue eyes.
Armed with her invented persona, Luna took McCabe’s advice and moved to New York City, in 1964. Within a few months of living in New York City, Luna was featured in the pages of major fashion magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar. She also began hobnobbing with artsy and avant-garde types. For example, McCabe says that he introduced Luna to Andy Warhol. Luna is described as someone who kept in touch with family members but also publicly denied or lied about many things about her family. The documentary mentions that she showed no interest in going back to the United States to visit her biological family after she moved to Europe.
Luna soon branched out into acting in some films, mostly supporting roles in middling movies, such as 1966’s “Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?” and 1969’s “Fellini Satyricon.” Her filmography as an actress was not extensive. According to the Internet Movie Database, Luna had credited roles as an actress in only five feature films from 1965 to 1972, with 1972’s “Salome” being the only movie where she had a starring role. She appeared as herself in several other movies.
Although she was in the public eye, Luna kept many things about herself very private and was able to fool a lot of people with her lies about her background. “Donyale Luna: Supermodel” does not mention that while she was living in New York in the mid-1960s, she was married for less than a year to an unknown actor. Very little is known about this 10-month marriage except that it ended in divorce, and Luna refused to publicly talk about this ex-husband. It says a lot about the times that she lived in, long before the Internet existed, that she was able to keep up her charade of pretending to be an exotic, multiracial European and hide many facts about her personal life.
One of her closest friends during this time was David Croland, an artist who freely admits that heavy drug use was part of their friendship and lifestyles. In the documentary, Croland says that he and Luna would regularly use marijuana, hashish and LSD. Other people in the documentary also talk about Luna’s drug abuse, which they believe was part of her need to mentally escape from her problems and try to avoid her insecurities. Family members and friends say that Luna often used drugs but was never addicted. However, it’s hard to know if that’s true, or if it’s denial from loved ones who don’t want to publicly admit that Luna could have been a drug addict.
Even with her very quick success in the fashion industry, Luna still experienced many racial barries as a black model in the mid-1960s. It was one thing to be in some fashion spreads. It was another thing to get on the cover of major magazines or get lucrative endorsement deals, which at the time were still privileges given only to white models. The documentary mentions that Luna eventually became disillusioned with the racism she experienced in the United States. The U.S. civil rights movement was going on at the same time, but she didn’t get involved in this movement or any political activism.
Luna’s career skyrocketed after she moved to London in December 1965. She would later live in Paris and then Rome. She was living in an isolated part of Italy and was in semi-retirement at the time of her death. During her years in London, she continued to hang out with the rich and famous and dated some celebrities, including Rolling Stones lead guitarist Brian Jones and actor Klaus Kinski. Luna can be seen as an assistant to a fire eater in the music variety film “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus,” which was filmed in 1968, but wasn’t released until 1996.
Two very famous photographers are mentioned in the documentary as having the most influence on Luna’s supermodel career: Richard Avedon (an American who died in 2004, at the age of 81) and David Bailey, a Brit who is interviewed in the documentary. Bailey says that he was vaguely aware of racism in the fashion industry, but he claims that he wasn’t one of the racists. Bailey comments about Luna: “I didn’t think about her being black. She was just someone who was beautiful.”
The general consensus is that Luna found greater acceptance in Europe than she did in the United States. However, that doesn’t mean that she never stopped experiencing racism. The documentary includes a heartbreaking account of racist decisions made by Diana Vreeland (American Vogue’s editor-in-chief from 1963 to 1971) that blocked Luna from getting major career opportunities. In the documentary, former supermodel Johnson begins to cry when she hears the details. “It’s an accumulation of all the pain,” Johnson says of her crying over the racism that she, Luna and many other black people have experienced.
Other emotionally touching segments in the documentary have to do with Luna’s only child: a daughter named Dream Cazzaniga, who was only 18 months old when Luna died. Cazzaniga, who was raised by her father’s parents in Italy, reads many of Luna’s journal entries in the documentary. Luna was a talented illustrator, and the documenatry includes some of her art. Cazzaniga also candidly shares her thoughts on her memories of her mother and how she felt growing up without her mother, whose death is a “taboo” subject for the Cazzaniga family.
Because “luna” means “moon” in Spanish and in Italian, Luna often told people she had a special connection to the moon. Near the beginning of the documentary, Cazzaniga can be heard in a voiceover saying, “Growing up in Italy, I remember seeing the moon. My nanny was telling me, ‘Oh, look, that’s your mom looking from the sky.’ I never doubted that whenever I was looking at the moon, I thought that was my blessing from her.”
Later in the documentary, Dream’s Italian father Luigi Cazzaniga, who was a photographer when he married Luna in 1976, is shown being interviewed and going with Dream to visit a few of the places where he and Luna made their lives in Italy. He describes Luna as someone who loved being a mother but she was feeling increasingly unhappy with living in a remote area where she had little or no contact with her friends she used to know as a model. Luigi’s family members, whom Dream describes as conservative and religious Catholics, rejected Luna and wouldn’t allow her inside their homes. Luigi had to frequently travel because of his photographer job, so Luna was often left home alone with Dream.
Former supermodel Pat Cleveland, whose career blossomed in the 1970s around the same time as Johnson’s career, tells a harrowing story in the documentary about how Luna seemed to be mentally unraveling over all the lies and the fake persona that Luna created for herself. Cleveland describes Luna as someone who was desperately lonely and literally begging for help in the last year of Luna’s life, when Luna confessed to Cleveland that she was really an American from Detroit. Cleveland says she felt powerles to help someone whom she didn’t know every well and who was already on a downward spiral. It’s not said out loud, but it’s implied that Luna was not getting any therapy or other professional help for her mental health issues when she was living in Italy.
Several people interviewed in the documentary give cultural and historical context to why Luna’s accomplishments in the fashion industry also came with racial burdens that might have been heavier in her lifetime but still exist for many people today. Constance White, an author and former editor-in-chief of Essence, comments on white Euro-centric standards of beauty that dominate in Western culture: “It’s something that Black women have a singular experience with.” White adds that these beauty standards often have this direct or indirect message for Black women: “Everything about you is wrong.”
Other interviewees in the documentary include fashion designer/activist Aurora James, Vogue editor-at-large Hamish Bowles, Duke University art history professor Dr. Richard J. Powell, talent agent Kyle Hagler, Richard Avedon’s former assistant Gideon Lewin and fashion designer Zandra Rhodes. Three of Luna’s close friends interviewed in the documentary are Sanders Bryant, a pal who knew her from high school; actor Juan Fernandez; who describes his relationship with Luna as being like a sibling relationship; and artist Livia Liverani, who says that Luna was frequently misunderstood.
“Donyale Luna: Supermodel” is certainly not the first documentary to be about someone who had troubles coping with fame and who eventually faded into near-obscurity. However, this documentary makes a clear case for people to learn more about Luna’s legacy—not just as a model in the fashion industry but also as a loved one who changed the lives of the people who were closest to her. Fame and money can be fleeting. The areas where Luna made the most impact cannot be measured by magazine covers or monetary amounts.
HBO premiered “Donyale Luna: Supermodel” on September 13, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in 1947, in Venice, Italy, the horror film “A Haunting in Venice” (based on Agatha Christie’s novel “Hallowe’en Party”) features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: Famous and super-intelligent Belgian detective Hercule Poirot comes out of retirement to solve the murder of someone who died a gruesome death during a Halloween party séance.
Culture Audience: “A Haunting in Venice” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Agatha Christie novels, the movie’s headliners, and competently told murder mysteries with supernatural elements.
“A Haunting in Venice” is another efficient but not exceptional offering in director/star Kenneth Branagh’s star-studded series of murder mystery films based on Agatha Christie novels. This horror movie delivers enough intrigue to outweigh some motonony. The other Branagh-directed movies adapted from Christie novels were dramas with no supernatural elements to the stories. “A Haunting in Venice” is a ghost story that makes famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (played by Branagh) question his belief that ghosts don’t exist.
As the third film in a series of Hercule Poirot movies directed by Branagh, “A Haunting in Venice” is the one that is literally the darkest, not just in terms of the cinematography but also in its emotional tone. The previous two Branagh-directed Hercule Poirot movies—2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express” and 2022’s “Death on the Nile”—contrasted their glamorous locations with the ugly realities of murder among rich and beautiful people. In “A Haunting in Venice,” Detective Poirot and his group of potential suspects not only have to deal with the murder investigation but also the possibility that a ghost might be in their midst, in a gloomy palazzo that has lost a lot of its former attractiveness.
Michael Green adapted the screenplay for “A Haunting in Venice” from Christie’s 1969 novel “Hallowe’en Party.” The movie (which takes place in 1947 and was filmed on location in Venice, Italy) has some touches of comedic riffs between a few of the characters. But for the most part, it’s a pure horror story, with multiple scenes of possible spirits possessing and terrifying living human beings. The ever-logical and fact-finding Hercule remains deeply skeptical about the existence of ghosts, until he starts to wonder if maybe he might be wrong.
In the beginning of “Haunting in Venice,” Hercule is enjoying his retirement asa resident of Venice, a city surrounded by water and where boats, not trains or buses, are the main form of group transportation. Hercule meets up with his sarcastic American friend Ariadne Oliver (played by Tina Fey), an author of mystery novels whose career has been fading because of her most recent books have flopped. It’s established early on that Ariadne is desperate for a comeback, even though she doesn’t really want to admit it to everyone.
The friendship between Ariadne and Hercule goes back to the 1930s. And it hasn’t been an entirely smooth relationship. Ariadne because a popular author because she based her main detective character on Hercule, without asking his permission. It’s caused some tension between Ariadne and Hercule.
Ariadne has a plan to make a comeback by writing a book with a new angle: Ariadne wants the main plot of her next book to be based on a real-life person who can leave Hercule confounded during a murder investigation. She has already decided that the person who can outwit Hercule is someone who has been making a living as a renowned psychic: Joyce Reynolds (played by Michelle Yeoh), who claims to have the ability to speak to the spirits of dead people.
Ariadne tells Hercule about a lavish nighttime Halloween party that retired British opera singer Rowena Drake (played by Kelly Reilly) is hosting for local orphaned children at Rowena’s palazzo, which used to be an orphanage where children were mistreated. The palazzo isn’t entirely run-down, but it’s not exactly in the best of shape. In fact, it has a reputation for possibly being haunted by children who died at this location.
Ariadne has been invited to this party and wants to bring Hercule as her guest. Ariadne is up front with Hercule in saying that she’s not going to the party because of the orphans. Ariadne wants to go to the party because Rowena will be having a séance where single mother Rowena hopes to contact the spirit of her young adult daughter Alicia Drake (played by Rowan Robinson, shown in flashbacks), who died one year ago, after falling from a balcony at the palazzo. The fall is widely believed to have been a suicide, since Alicia had been depressed and dealing with other mental health issues after a breakup from her fiancé.
Joyce has been hired to be the psychic who will lead the séance. Ariadne wants to use what happens at the séance as the basis for Ariadne’s next book. Hercule doesn’t believe in the afterlife. He thinks it’s utter nonsense to believe that ghosts exist. Ariadne is very superstitious and thinks ghosts can exist. Part of Ariadne’s agenda is to get Hercule to change his mind.
Needless to say, someone ends up being murdered at the party, and Hercule ends his retirement to investigate the murder. The death happens when this murder victim is thrown from a stairwell onto a statue that impales the person. As shown in the trailer for “A Haunting in Venice,” Hercule almost gets murdered himself, when someone tries to drown him by forcing his head underwater in a bucket meant for bobbing for apples. And viewers will not be surprised if more than one person ends up dead by the end of “A Haunting in Venice.”
Some viewers might ask themselves while watching the movie: “What kind of person throws a séance during a party for children?” It’s explained that Rowena has been distraught with grief, ever since the death of her only child, Alicia. Rowena’s relationship with Alicia is described as more like sisters rather than mother/daughter. She was also very protective of Alicia.
The children are in another part of the palazzo during the séance, but things start to get dangerous when a huge chandelier falls down in the middle of a room where some of the children are. Luckily, no one is hurt. The party for the orphans essentially ends, but the séance continues, with one child in attendance who is not an orphan: Leopold Ferrier (played by Jude Hill) is the precocious 10-year-old son of widower Dr. Leslie Ferrier (played by Jamie Dornan), who is the Drake family’s personal physician. (Dornan and Hill also played a father and a son in director Branagh’s autobiographical Oscar-winning 2021 film “Belfast.”)
Dr. Ferrier is also a World War II veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder, which has damaged his career and negatively affected his relationship with his son. Leopold and his father are both British. Multiple times in the movie, it’s mentioned that Dr. Ferrier was very fond of Alicia. The implication is that he was in love with her, but he did not cross the line and kept a professional relationship that a doctor has to have with a patient.
Leopold is the only child who is allowed to be at the séance. Why? The movie shows that Leopold’s father has been so wrapped up in his own problems, Leopold often doesn’t have much adult supervision. Leopold is not afraid to tell adults how he thinks he knows more than they do. At one point he says to psychic Louisa: “I talk to ghosts all the time. They say you’re fake.” In other words, Ariadne isn’t the only one in this group with a sassy attitude.
Louisa is also a diva, but she’s much more of a control freak than Ariadne. It should come as no surprise that she clashes with Hercule, who thinks people who make money as psychics are really con artists. However, Louisa (who used to be a war nurse) and Hercule have something in common: They both experienced trauma by witnessing the horrors of war during World War I. Flashback scenes in “Death on the Nile” showed glimpses into Hercule’s war experiences.
It wouldn’t be a movie based on a Christie novel without several murder suspects. After the first murder happens, Hercule orders everyone to stay in the mansion until he solves the murder mystery. One of the people confined to the house Olga Seminoff (played by Camille Cottin), the Drake family’s devoted housekeeper. Olga is a very religious widow who used too be a nun, but she left her nun life behind when she fell in love with her future husband. Olga, who often speaks in Latin, is very open about her feelings that the séance is religiously wrong, because it’s meant to conjure up the spirit of a dead person.
Other suspects include Joyce’s two assistants: Nicholas Holland (played by Ali Khan) and his sister Desdemona Holland (played by Emma Laird), who are two orphaned young adults from Eastern Europe. Nicholas and Desdemona don’t say a lot and often seem to fade into the background, but their personal history is eventually revealed. Hercule already thinks that Louisa is a fraud as a clairvoyant, so he suspects that Nicholas and Desdemona are at least guilty of being Louisa’s accomplices in a con game.
A surprise and unwelcome guest at this séance is Maxime Gerard (played by Kyle Allen), a cocky American chef from New York City. Even before Alicia’s death, Rowena intensely disliked Maxime, because she felt that Maxime was a gold digger who was after the Drake family fortune. Rowena blames Maxime for breaking Alicia’s heart and indirectly causing Alicia’s death. Maxime, who claims his love for Alicia was real, announces during this gathering that he’s going to be rich because he’s got his own restaurant in New York City.
No one is immune to being a suspect, not even Vitale Portfoglio (played by Richard Scamarcio), a retired policeman who is now Hercule’s bodyguard. A police officer who becomes part of the investigation is Vincenzo Di Stefano (played by Fernando Piloni), who was also on the scene after Alicia died. Hercule becomes convinced that Alicia’s death is somehow related to the murder that happened during this party.
“A Haunting in Venice” has lot of the traditional “jump scares” found in movies where a séance takes place in a mansion with a reputation for being haunted. What’s more interesting is to see the psychological effect that these “ghost sightings” have on Hercule, who is the biggest ghost skeptic in the group. He starts to wonder if he’s hallucinating, which shakes his confidence about his metal capacity to logically solve the crimes that have occurred during this gathering.
Branagh has a comfortable handle on this beloved and quirky detective character, so watching “A Haunting in Venice” is enjoyable to watch for showing this new side to Hercule. Yeoh has a very commanding and impressive presence as Joyce, who thinks she’s the best psychic in the world. Reilly’s performance as the emotionally fragile Rowena remains compelling throughout the film.
Fey puts her comedic talent to good use in her performance as Ariadne, who isn’t as sour and annoying as this author character could have been because of the way that Fey delivers the lines. Hill is a scene stealer as Leopold, while Allen’s depiction of Maxime and Dornan’s portrayal of Leslie show different versions of emotionally wounded men. The rest of the characters in the movie are fairly two-dimensional and don’t have much depth.
The cinematography of “A Haunting in Venice” (which takes place mostly at night) is bathed a lot dark gold and brown for interior scenes and dark blue for the nighttime exterior scenes. Because most of the movie takes place inside a house, viewers won’t get to see much of Venice’s outdoor beauty, but when it’s shown, it looks gorgeous. The production design is top-notch. Branagh’s overall direction is quite stylish but occasionally stodgy.
As for the mystery itself, there comes a point in the movie where it might be easy for some viewers to figure out who’s guilty of the crimes. People who know enough about murder mystery stories know that the best ones have surprising elements, even when there are clues that point to the guilty party. Whether or not viewers solve the mystery before the movie ends, “A Haunting in Venice” remains an entertaining journey along the way and should satisfy people who are fans of Christie’s classic novels.
20th Century Studios will release “A Haunting in Venice” in U.S. cinemas on September 15, 2023.